When it’s time, you will know what to do. I find it annoying when people tell me that. It might be true, but I still don’t like it. When I’m terrified of the unknown, when the signs all point to chaos and disaster, when the darkness closes in and I feel alone, I know I won’t be looking for an emergency manual. But I would love to see a familiar face, hear a reassuring confident voice, and walk with a sympathetic travel companion. Many a time along life’s journey I have come upon a fork in the road or bad weather or a snarling dog or a steep hill or a wall or a dead end. And I will pause and consider my options. But I know I am up to the challenge. So, I step forward confidently and keep attentive to everything else going on around me, knowing my capabilities as well as my inadequacies, knowing who I can call on, knowing God is by my side.
This past week I got to thinking about my time among you in light of today’s feast of the Ascension of the Lord. There will always be much ahead of us that we will never know until we face it, health issues, economic insecurity, unintended distancing from good friends and extended family, homeowner tribulations, job security, crisis of faith and spirituality. But it can ease our minds to recall what we have already faced, what we have overcome with some degree of success, who we have counted on and can still count on, and what we have achieved to get where we are now. So, we have some assurance we are not totally without recourse. And by that time, we will hopefully be wiser as well. It all depends on whether or not we’re learning the lessons life throws our way. No one is exempt from life’s challenges whether we like it or not, whether we believe in God or not, whether our following after Jesus is convincing or not, whether we treasure our freedoms or not, whether we truly care for one another or not. We are not exempt. And so, we will come upon forks in the road and bad weather and snarling beasts and steep winding hills and walls and dead ends. We will face health issues, economic insecurity, unintended distancing from good friends and extended family, homeowner tribulations, job security, crisis of faith and spirituality. And as much as I hate to hear it, there is a lot of truth to it. When it’s time, you will know what to do.
Before Jesus left to return to the Father, he reminded his apostles to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Did they even understand what he said? Probably not. They knew the baptism of water that John gave at the Jordan for the forgiveness of sins. But what did he mean that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit? “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” What sort of power was he talking about? And how would they give witness to him in all these places? Still, they trusted him deeply despite their grief and fear and feelings of abandonment. In the days ahead God’s plan would unfold and they would find the courage they needed and they would forge ahead and do amazing things. It makes more sense in hindsight. And the longer you live the more you can look back and reflect. And what you now know you cannot unknow.
Within weeks of my arrival in Waynesboro 16 years ago I invited you to three townhall meetings so you could tell me what I needed to know to be your pastor. I told you I might not have answers since I was new to the job. But now that we have 16 years to look back on, I might have answers. I wasn’t always quick on the draw. Sometimes I spoke hastily or ignored obvious signs or jumped to conclusions. Sometimes I went to bed puzzled or shaken or heartbroken. But I believe I learned to listen better and trust the Holy Spirit. I tried to speak difficult truths with mixed success and decided many times I was no prophet. It’s more an art than a science really. And the road beckons us onward. And the Holy Spirit reminds us we have been given power to witness to Jesus wherever we may be. And you and I have many more miles to walk before we sleep.
If we take the opportunity to pause and look back upon our journey, we might notice the times when there was only one set of footprints, and we followed the voice calling out our name, and the darkness did not overpower us. St. Paul prays for us in his letter to the Ephesians. “May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.” He spoke from having faced grief and fear and feelings of abandonment himself and having known the power of the Holy Spirit that gave him courage and strength to witness to Jesus wherever he went.
Three years ago, the weekend of 6 November, I shared with you a prayer from Thomas Merton. I still pray it every so often especially in times like we’re facing now. And I ask you to pray it with me yet again. “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.”
Rolo B Castillo © 2022